Coach’s Column with Andy Applegate: Trainer Workouts to Get You Through The Winter

Question: What trainer workouts can I do this winter to really work on increasing my overall power?

Answer: This is a very general question and we could write many words to cover all the possibilities. Ideally you would be able to periodize your trainer workouts over several training blocks. By this I mean, targeting specific types of intensity sessions to focus on one aspect of fitness for several weeks at a time before moving on to the a different focus. If you do have a couple months, I would suggest first doing a full block of steady state efforts (long efforts of approximately 95 to 99% of current lactate threshold, or about a 7.5 to 8 on a 1-10 intensity scale). An example of workout progression here would be building from a session of 5×5 mins up to 3×15 mins at steady state effort. Recovery time for these should be approximately 50% of the duration of the “work” interval. Do this type of session about 3 times a week for 3 weeks and you should see some significant gains. After a bit of an recovery block it would be time to move to the next focus: Vo2max.

Vo2max efforts, or what we call power intervals, are very intense, relatively short, efforts done nearly flat out. I don’t think I have ever heard anyone say these efforts are enjoyable, but the return on the work investment can be huge. Start with just 3×3 mins of power intervals (remember the effort needs to be near all out or a 9 to 9.5 on a 1-10 intensity scale). Build the workouts until you can do 6×3 mins or about 18 mins of total work time in a single session. Recovery time should be the same as the work interval. Do this type of workout 2 to 3 times per week and after a 3 week block you should see a nice increase in your ability to put out a higher power per effort, an improved ability to recover between hard efforts and an increased capacity to endure some serious training pain. All of these fitness gains will translate directly to increased power on the bike outside.

There are of course other areas that you could target with specific trainer workouts, but those are two great areas to focus on over the winter. Here are a few other guidelines to consider for indoor training over the winter:

  1. Consistency is key. It would be better to do 4 or 5 sessions per week at a shorter duration than to try to do just a couple of longer sessions. You get more out of the training if you keep the frequency of workouts high.
  1. The less time or fewer sessions you can do , the more you need to focus on intensity. If you can only do 3 sessions per week, you would be best served to make all or most of those sessions very focused and intense. If you can do 5 or 6 sessions per week, you would split workouts between very intense, moderate and probably even a recovery ride a week.
  1. Focus on a specific fitness aspect or type of workout for an entire training block. By repeating similar types of sessions for several weeks, your body will respond to that repeated stress and give you improvements. This does not mean you can’t throw in different workouts from time to time, but keep a single general focus for each block.
  1. Something is always better than nothing. By this I mean that any time you get on the bike or do any type of exercise is, for the most part, going to benefit you in some way, even if you break every guideline you have ever heard.
  1. Group training sessions, crazy hard training videos, spin classes, online competitions, “kitchen sink” type workouts, and any other type of training all have a place and time. Even if you are focusing on a specific type of workout, doing a different type of session once a week can keep things fresh and help you maintain motivation.

As an aside, here are 2 workouts that I really like to prescribe for trainer sessions that can be thrown in the mix from time to time:

15-15 Speed Intervals:

Warm-up well and then do 3×10 minutes of 15 seconds “on”, 15 seconds “off”. “on ” segments should be 9.5 on 1-10 intensity scale…off segments are easy spinning (keep the legs moving!). Use perceived exertion as a guide rather than HR or power…3 mins recovery between each 10 min session.

Tempo + Bursts:

Warm up , then ride 30 to 50 mins steady in the tempo zone (88 -94% of lactate threshold HR or power, or 7 on a 1-10 scale of perceived exertion). During this tempo session, stand and do a near all out “burst” effort for 10 to 12 pedal revolutions once every 2 to 3 minutes.

Andy Applegate is a Pro level coach with Carmichael Training Systems. He has over 20 years of racing experience and has been coaching cyclists full time since 2001. His passion is endurance mountain bike racing. You can find out more about Andy and his training programs at